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News – February 2018.

We are in February 2018 and we continue with our winter flying team for another few weeks before beginning to include other birds as we  prepare for spring/summer 2018.

I am just recovering from ‘flu’ not sure whether it was Australian flu or another but I was unwell for about 10 days with the usual symptoms and then a process of gaining strength again.  Looking after animals is tough when you are not well and I have a great of sympathy for farmers who have to struggle on regardless and often have health problems which for similar reasons they just leave. I saw an interesting program on where they were encouraging farmers to have medical check ups when they go to market – which I think is a brilliant idea. They pay for it with a small levy. Anyway I am well now and just look forward to the warmth of spring.

Of course this is the time when we begin to take in bookings for summer events ‘over and above’ events that carry over from year to year. We will see how things pan out for the year ahead – we look forward to it. I leave with a photo of a past summer event.

 

Latest news.

Got involved in a photographic shoot for the Plantagenet Society – for their website and general publicity – and I include a photo from that session. It seemed rather strange to be trooping about on a Saturday morning in January in Medieval costume on a wet field! thank goodness for the invention of Wellington boots! anyhow it was fun. We do offer a medieval costume display to support the theme of an event – like for example Medieval jousting and the like. The bar of authenticity is set  high when its come to  historical costumes for re-enactment societies and groups – quite rightly so – so judge me primarily on my falconry display and not my outfit! I leave you with a photo of the session. I thank the Plantagenet Society and the photographer Pat Patrick for the picture. The falcon I took over was ‘Pippa’ who is a lovely tame falcon and ideal for the day.

2018 first falconry displays blog entry of the year.

Well we are into 2018 – it is always nice to enter the new year. Our Christmas displays went well although Boxing Day was wet in the afternoon so we spent our time in the Tudor Hall at Thornbury Castle where we flew ‘Bo’ our Eagle Owl. She always delights guests and it was real ‘Harry Potter’ stuff flying  up and down the Tudor Hall to guest outstretched gloved hands. We dashed outside to fly a ‘Pippa’ one of our Lanner Falcons and then ‘Arizona’ our Harris Hawk when the rain relented slightly with guests standing dry under the arch. Then we returned to the Hall which was lovely and warm and allowed guests to handle ‘Pippa’ and then ‘Pete’ the Kestrel – all in all despite the rain it was a happy afternoon. It is wonderful to have the Tudor Hall which is often in use for wedding banquets and the like. We continue our daily flying and on stand by for bookings. We will be in winter mode for another 8 weeks or so and then we will start to prepare for our Spring and Summer events – seems a long way off at the moment!

I am currently reading ‘My House of Sky’ by Hetty Saunders regarding the life and work of J A Baker. He wrote the book entitled the ‘The Peregrine’ in 1967. As anyone who knows me I am a long time admirer of the book having first read it in the  early 1970’s. I am reading it with much interest. It is based on his archive at Essex University which I visited a number of years ago – I will read on and report back.

I shall end my blog with a nice picture of ‘Bo’ taken at a medieval themed wedding some years ago – she is thirty now!

December – Michael Davie falconry displays update.

‘Autumn is thrown down. Winter stands’ J A baker The Peregrine. It is 10th December today and the weather has been wintry with widespread sleet and snow all day – like an exert from Bakers diary. We have not flown the birds today – I do not like the birds getting cold and wet when a day off in the dry with plenty of food is the privilege of a trained falcon – while their wild cousins shift for themselves as Shakespeare would say. A lot of young falcons do not make it through the first winter – bad weather can prevent hunting with obvious consequences over a prolonged period – survival can be a question of good luck or some good fortune like an easy kill.

Anyhow our dog needs her walks so we have been out twice with her. I was surprised but delighted to see flocks of skylarks in the oil seed rape – whether they were resting together in the crop with the snow above them or feeding on small invertebrates – I do not know. They did not fly far when disturbed. There were also a lot of migratory thrushes feeding on a field not yet prepared for spring barley with the inevitable sparrowhawk gliding stealthily low over the field and off in to the gloom of the late afternoon. We also found a saturated wood pigeon that just about made it off the ground and into a tree. It would have been an easy kill for the two local buzzards that ‘still hunt’ from trees growing out of an old hedgerow that runs along one side of the field. Sadly no Peregrines today – although I checked the pylons – another day! although we saw one a couple of  weeks ago hunting and stooping at a woodpigeon – which was great. I am not sure it was a sucessful hunt although I did try to convince myself I could see the falcon a couple of fields away feeding on the plough.  We were in a slightly elevated position. Seeing the Peregrine was just wonderful. I leave you with a picture of madam.

Birds of prey displays – late November update – 2017

Well November is nearly at its end – it normally reminds me of J A Baker – but I will use his iconic phrase at the beginning of December but suffice to say winter is almost upon us.

As always we fly all year round so we are available at short notice for any bookings that may come in but also our continued availability for guests at Thornbury Castle – many of which are American guests who love the history of the place brought to life in part by a falconry display – bringing the past back to life.

So our birds are flying everyday – we are fortunate to have the choice of a number of flying areas and we just rotate round – decision been made each morning as to where to go – weather can play its part as some areas are more protected.

Having flying field options is particularly useful for the demonstration bird of prey so they are not phased when confronted with a new place or venue to fly. All the birds are flying well – during the colder months they have more to eat which is important as it is colder but also shortened daylight hours brings a sense of urgency in the bird of prey to hunt – this also shows in the demonstration falcon and other birds of prey. It means that the birds condition can drift up which is a good thing without the summer worry of  the bird been lost.

I leave you with a puzzle of a picture of a Harris Hawk flying away, climbing and returning – the leaves are off the tree in the background signifying that is the right time of year. This was taken at the old community field that was virtually my own to fly for thirty years.

December is going to be busy for us in relative terms so I will report with an update and my J A baker quote!

 

 

November update – Michael Davie – falconry and birds of prey displays.

Well we head into November – it is a long winter! We keep a team of birds of prey flying throughout the winter heading towards our Christmas program of events. This allows flexibility always to be ready should any overnight events come in – which they can do at this time of year particularly if  the weather is good.

We have some maintenance to do over the winter plus the van needs to go in for a major service while we have a chance.

We visit the Knowle at least a three times a week to exercise the birds and I am glad to report that the little wild kestrel has been back again – often flying a trained falcon will bring them in out of curiosity. The same can be said of wild peregrines too. We have not seen our local peregrine recently – I suspect it is on another part of its territory. There are so many woodpigeons on the rape at the moment they can take their pick. I have not been down towards the pylons with the dog recently as she has had an infected dew claw – to which she is receiving treatment. We are keeping off rough ground at the moment until it is fully healed. I leave you will a picture of me flying ‘Bo’ our eagle owl at Blenheim palace – picture by Karl Drage.

October 2017 – update

Well we have just come back from a bit of a northern tour of Yorkshire the highlight of which was seeing a wild merlin chasing what appeared to be a little ringed plover in the harbour at Whitby – it was just amazing! every time the merlin got near the plover dived into the water. The merlin shot over the top and landed on a moored boat. This happened several times the merlin finally landing on the rigging of a modern version of an old pirate ship.  I got my binoculars out looked across and the merlin had gone. Obviously it had down to the coast off the adjacent moors – which they tend to do during the winter. It was just great.We later visited the moors and were surprised at the number of grouse we saw and a really good variety of birds.

Our small group work continues for us over the winter at Country Hotels and the like while looking at bookings for 2018 for our birds of prey and falconry displays. As always we would like to thank all the shows and other organisations that have booked our displays over this summer just gone.

I leave with a picture of a trained merlin from the 1970’s – he was a male merlin known in falconry parlance as a Jack merlin.

Wet start to the day – waiting for it to stop before flying the birds of prey.

Well a wet morning to start the day but we are still hopeful of getting out and flying the birds. We have an event tomorrow – a wedding display between the ceremony and reception – which is something we do quite a lot. It is a new venue for us and so correct preparation is really important. On a general point we do fly in light rain although it is quite natural for wild birds of prey to delay hunting if the weather is poor. For the young wild raptor good autumn weather can critical as they learn to hunt – a long period of wet and windy weather can be a real problem – loss of condition, loss of confidence and so on – a lucky kill can be so important at this stage. On a wet day the falconer feeds the trained falcon and gives the bird a day off.

That kestrel I talked about in my last blog is back – it is has returned after been chased off by a buzzard. It was hovering again over the Knowle – really great to see. I also saw the Peregrine again this time it flew in a curious fashion rather slowly and then stooped and made connection with a wood pigeon  – they merged briefly into one. The falcon did not bind – as if it was playful – and she carried on to the pylon. She flew right over the dog and I but at a height where we were irrelevant. The rain has stopped! here is a happy photo!

first frost of autumn 2017

We had our first frost this morning which has been followed by a lovely bright morning. I tend to take the dog out first thing before flying the birds to give adequate space between her two walks which is harder to do when the days shorten. We tend to bump into wildlife either waking up or going to sleep and this week I saw a barn owl – which is only the second one I have seen in Churchdown for 25 years or so. It was a female  – she came to ground briefly mobbed by magpies and then disappeared in to a thicket.  I hope we may see her again but I suspect she was just passing through – it that time of year – dispersal for many birds and animals .

We have had a Kestrel on the grassy Knowle for about a week – a really beautiful little falcon – spending its day hovering over the grassland looking for prey. I saw it got chased off by one of our resident buzzards – which was a shame and I suspect this a reason why we are seeing less Kestrels over all. But they are tough little birds and probably he has moved to another part of his territory and will be back. I also saw a wild peregrine try to catch a woodpigeon with three hammer blow stoops at incredible speed – so exciting. The pigeon survived – narrowly and the peregrine having lost speed flew heavily up to the pylon. I turned away briefly looked back and it was gone.

We have moved over to our autumn display set up – to offer all year round displays.We are always reviewing our static display – it importantly allows us to look after the birds in the show environment while waiting to fly them in the arena. We will not offer events just a static display because the fun in birds of prey is flying them – and the justification.

I am going to live you with a picture of Sprite our peregrine with a ‘falconry centre’ or Phillip Glasier type hood on which is cross between a syrian and dutch hood. The pattern is taken from his book.  These hoods are sewn inside out and then soaked in water and turned and then left to dry on a hood block shaped closely to that of a falcons head. Then the hood is cut to length, the beak opening added, a plume put on top to hold the hood and braces added at the back to open and close the hood. These hoods fitted correctly are comfortable for the falcon and long lasting if cared for.

You can buy hoods that are beautifully made and relatively inexpensive but it is fun to make your own if you have that feeling it is something you would like to try. Phillip would to add gold leaf trim just to add a little bit extra bling. At one time he was making a great number of them as they were often given away as gifts – and so became an expert hood maker. It is nice to bring them back to life again from the pages of his book.

The hood is a very useful device. The idea is to get a young falcon used to the hood when it is more afraid of you than the hood and as the bird tames it just becomes part of it daily routine. Hooding the bird for a short time each day just before flying is a good way of keeping a falcon ‘good to the hood’ as it knows something nice is about to happen – flying and food!

The hood is an important item – if you can use it without fuss you can protect a falcon from being upset or stressed – a strange dog bounding up or a tractor suddenly appearing for example – if you can quickly hood the bird – it cannot see and so is not frightened. It means you can control the environment – if you want the bird to get used to something have it in the background while you distract the bird while feeding. This is basis of manning – or taming the bird to new sights and sounds. Use of the hood can prevent a long term problems – having to avoid tractors for the next 20 years! This is where the word to hoodwink comes from – by putting the bird into darkness you are tricking it into thinking it is night time and therefore should roost.  Anyway I leave you with the photo.

 

September falconry displays update – summer ending

We have finished our six jousting days at Blenheim and I include our setup from our last visit which proved particularly windy – unfortunately my colleague Ray drew the blunt of it and so I decided on the following days to use the t-pee system for our static display. It is simple and robust particularly when excessively windy and I include a photo of the setup. We use the system for afternoon events like village shows and fetes  when the full static is not required and for corporate days. The photo was taken just before  visitors wander over and settle and encamp on the grass to picnic and watch the days activities in the jousting arena. It is a real family event. You can see the palace in the background.

So September is here and we continue – less shows now but of course we provide flying displays year round including over the Christmas period at local Country Hotels – in fact any event where there is space for a birds of prey flying display.